Read an Excerpt
Reconnecting Mass and Daily Living
Are you a practicing Catholic?
Chances are, you will answer that question based on whether or not you attend Mass on Sunday. Now, let’s rephrase that question.
Are you practicing your baptism?
This question seems a lot harder to answer, doesn’t it? Waking up on Sunday morning to go to Mass is one issue. Waking up each day to practice our baptism is another. In fact, going to Mass on Sunday makes little sense unless it is understood within the context of how we live our lives the other six days of the week. The reason we go to Mass in the first place is because, through our baptism, we have made a commitment to something and to someone. Unfortunately, many of us are not sure what that commitment is really all about and don’t know what it means to practice our baptism. As a result, going to Mass sometimes seems to make little sense, while the idea of sleeping in on Sunday morning can appear quite attractive.
These are the cold hard facts: while about 75 percent of Catholics attended Mass on a weekly basis in the 1950s, today only about 35 percent do so (according to “American Catholics and American Catholicism: An Inventory of Facts, Trends and Influences” by James D. Davidson). We might attempt to attribute this decline to societal changes except for the fact that church attendance rates for other denominations do not show the same dramatic decrease (Davidson). What has happened in the past fifty years to lead to this deterioration in Catholic Mass attendance?
Some Catholics are quick to conclude that the decline in Mass attendance can be traced to the changes in the Mass, most notably, shifting from Latin to the vernacular in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. Others who defend the new order of the Mass claim that the changes simply weren’t taught well enough. The reasons for the decline in Mass attendance, however, are much more complex than these. Major changes have taken place in American Catholicism since the 1940s and 1950s, most notably, a dramatic increase in pluralism (few Catholics today live in Catholic “ghettos” as their predecessors did fifty years ago), a decrease in respect for episcopal authority, and a shift away from Catholicism’s once predominant image of God as judgmental. The truth is, while parishes served as the hub of social and economic activity for many immigrant communities of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, most pre–Vatican II Catholics did not have a more profound sense of connection between the Mass and their daily lives than do contemporary Catholics; many were simply afraid of the consequences of not going!
While the obligation to attend Mass remains, Vatican II placed a greater emphasis on participation in the Mass. With less emphasis on the punishment for not attending Mass, many Catholics realized for the first time that they recognized no connection between the Mass and their daily lives. As many Catholics discovered that they were not struck by lightning when they missed Mass, attendance deteriorated. Others slowly but inexorably filled their Sunday mornings with shopping, children’s athletic activities, or just relaxing and reading the paper or doing the crossword puzzle.
So, what’s the solution? Do we instill more fear in Catholics about the punishment for missing Mass? Do we return to the pre–Vatican II Mass? These solutions miss the problem. Through all the changes in the Catholic Church over the past fifty years, one constant remains: Catholics lack a solid connection between what they believe, how they worship, and how they live their faith on a daily basis. In other words, the real problem lies not simply in a lack of understanding about the Mass, but more directly in a lack of understanding of what it means to live day in and day out as a baptized Catholic Christian. The solution involves much more than simply improving the quality of the music played, the homily preached, or the manner in which the altar is decorated (although improvement in these areas is often sorely needed!). Rather, the solution lies in helping Catholics understand God’s connection to our daily lives. The solution lies in helping Catholics understand the benefits of attending Mass rather than focusing on the consequences of missing Mass. The solution lies in helping Catholics understand that baptism is a commitment to a way of life that needs to be sustained and nourished by celebration of the Eucharist.
This is not just another book that explains the parts of the Mass. There are already dozens of those available. This is a book about a way of life. It is a book about how one hour on Sunday morning can and should shape how we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) the other 167 hours of the week. It is a book about obligation: not just our obligation to go to church on Sunday but our obligation to live the Catholic way of life that we committed to in baptism, a sacrament of initiation that reaches completion in the celebration of the Eucharist.
What Do You Do?
When people meet and attempt to get to know one another, they inevitably ask the question, “So, what do you do?” By asking this, we most often mean, “What do you do for a living?” For better or for worse, we tend to define ourselves by our profession. When we reply, “I’m a teacher” or “I’m a lawyer” or “I’m a nurse,” people have some idea of what we do with our time.
What if we were to answer, “I practice Catholicism”? Would anyone, including ourselves, have an idea of what we do with our time? We have to be careful: to say that we are called to be Christian is often a cop-out. To be baptized as a Catholic Christian means that we are called to do certain things that make us like Christ. For those of us who were baptized as infants, we may not have consciously stopped to ask ourselves, “What am I supposed to do as a Christian?” Yet, every time we go to Mass, we are commanded to “do this in memory of me” (emphasis added). At the end of the Mass, the priest or deacon says, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” It is very clear that we are being sent forth to do something! Just what is it?
At the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Eucharist with these words: “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus then got up from the table and washed the feet of his disciples, saying, “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). When Jesus told us to “do this” in his memory, he was telling us to do much more than simply perform the ritual that we know as the Mass. Jesus was telling us not only to break bread, but to give ourselves to others as he gave himself for us. In this book, our goal is to show that the Mass is not something we attend but is something that we do and something that prepares us to go forth and do what Jesus asks of us.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus emphasizes over and over again that to be his disciple means to do:
¦ “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).
¦ “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
¦ “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matthew 25:45).
¦ “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35).
¦ “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27).
¦ “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46).
¦ “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these” (John 14:12).
¦ “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).
When we hear the words, “Do this in memory of me” at Mass, we are being reminded that, in baptism, we made a promise to do certain things as followers of Jesus. Perhaps one of the main reasons we often don’t know what the Mass is sending us out to do is that we don’t understand what we promised to do in our baptism in the first place. When we made a commitment to become part of Jesus’ church (a commitment that was made for us if we were baptized as infants), we began the process of being initiated into a way of life. It is no coincidence that in the very early church, members of the church were said to belong to “the Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). We learn what we are to do in this way of life through apprenticeship to those who act as mentors for us: parents, siblings, godparents, sponsors, relatives, and friends. An apprentice is a learner who is bound to someone with greater experience in order to learn a skill or an art. Since the Eucharist is a sacrament of initiation, it is a continuing of our apprenticeship, as we learn the skill or art of living the Christian way of life and then are sent forth to practice it.
Just what does this way of life call us to do? The answer lies in the words used in the rite of baptism as the priest or deacon anoints with oil:
God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . now anoints you with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed priest, prophet, and king, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life. [emphasis added]
As disciples of Christ, we are called to love and serve God and others by sharing in Jesus’ ministry as priest, prophet, and king. This means that in our daily living we are called to do the following:
¦ As priest: make Jesus present to others, praise and worship God through our lives, offer ourselves and our lives in sacrifice, help others gain access to God, intercede for the needs of the world, and act as part of God’s response to those needs.
¦ As prophet: speak on behalf of the oppressed, clearly and boldly speak God’s word, bear witness, evangelize and catechize, bring hope to those in despair, challenge people and institutions to be faithful, fearlessly speak out about injustice.
¦ As king: serve and protect the vulnerable, provide for those unable to provide for themselves, love enemies, lay down our lives for others, work for justice, live with dignity, respect others’ dignity, restore lives that are broken, represent God’s will.
At the end of Mass, when the priest or deacon says, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” we are being sent forth on a mission to be priests, prophets, and kings to others. If we understand that this is our calling, our mandate, then we will better understand what it is that we are doing at Mass and how the Mass prepares, enables, challenges, and inspires us to go forth and do just that.
While Sunday is a day of rest, the word liturgy comes from the Greek word leitourgia, which means “the work of the people.” The liturgy is indeed “work” or something that we do. At the same time, the do-ing comes not only during that one hour in church but even more so when we leave the church building and go forth into daily life. Come Monday morning, with our batteries recharged, we are now ready to forge ahead and attempt to put into practice what we began working on at Mass: a commitment to go forth “in peace to love and serve the Lord” and one another.
In baptism, we were anointed with oil as a sign of our sharing in Christ’s priesthood, prophecy, and kingship. Celebrating the Eucharist strengthens and renews our baptismal commitment. The Mass and its various parts provide us with everything we need to be sent forth to serve as “priest, prophet, and king.” In this book, we will identify and describe what Christians are called to do and be; what qualities and skills are needed to live as a Christian; and how the Mass (and its various parts) empowers, equips, motivates, and challenges us to answer the call to go forth “to love and serve the Lord!”
Beginning with the End in Mind
Thanks Be to God
I experienced one of those “aha” moments while attending Mass during vacation in a small town on the coast of Maine. The celebrant was an older priest with features right out of a Winslow Homer painting, as craggy as the coastline itself. His style was warm and inviting, and I instantly felt good being there. After communion, I marveled that no one in the congregation moved to leave early. As the priest looked us all in the eye and said, “The Mass is ended. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” he reached down and scooped up an unsuspecting child no more than two years old and placed her on his left shoulder, making them look like an old holy card of St. Christopher and the child Jesus. My response of “Thanks be to God” was more than a happy exclamation celebrating the end of the liturgy. It was a personal clarion call for me to take what I had just learned from this wise old priest and share it with my own congregation and to become more like him as a celebrant, not to do Mass in the same old way. The congregation was beaming along with me as the priest processed out with the child during the triumphant recessional hymn. After he returned the nonplussed child to her proud parents, everyone waited patiently to shake his hand. Lest I paint too idyllic a picture, it must be noted that one of the reasons no one left Mass early was that the usher had locked the parking lot gate and only now, after everyone had exited the church, did he unlock it so people could leave. (DJG)
This simple recollection serves two purposes. One, it reminds us to retain our sense of humor when speaking about the Mass; it’s easier to lift up our hearts when we are light-hearted! Second, and most important for our purposes in this book, it draws our attention to a part of the Mass that is easily overlooked: the very end. In fact, any discussion about the Mass—this sacred liturgy that calls the community of faith together week after week, month after month, year after year throughout a Catholic Christian’s life—must begin with the very ending of the ceremony. Everything else that we do, say, pray—indeed, all the gestures, music, responses, and moments of silence—lead us to this exhortation to go out “to love and serve the Lord.” And because we are nurtured by the presence of our living God both in the words of Scripture and in the sacrament of the Eucharist, because we ask for and receive forgiveness in the penitential rite, because we are challenged by the insights presented in the homily, because we bring our needs and hopes to the altar to be offered up in sacrifice to our God, and because we reach out in peace to one another in the community that has gathered, we are now given a mandate: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Just what do these powerful words mean, and how do we go about accomplishing this directive?
“Go,” we are told. While we may remain for a while after Mass to share some hospitality, we are directed to leave. Our work here is done. We were not baptized in order to spend more time in church. Rather, the responsibilities that we agreed to take on as members of the church must continue in the world outside the church doors. It is the task of the laity in the congregation to take what just happened with them in order to reveal God’s presence in the world. That world is everywhere, including our homes, neighborhoods, communities, and workplaces. “Go” means leaving the safety and security of the sanctuary. It means internalizing the word of God and going forth to proclaim it, both in word and in deed, to others who may not be as receptive to hearing or experiencing it. “Go,” we are urged. It is the only way that Jesus Christ will reach those who have not joined us in worship and in prayer. Too many choose not to worship with us, so we must go to them instead of waiting for them to come to us.
But we are not simply dismissed haphazardly. We are told to “go in peace” (emphasis added). We are told to go with that which we have received and shared with our fellow Mass-goers: the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. What does it mean to “go in peace”? Well, obviously, we are not at peace if we are fighting. There is no peace if we are distracted. We cannot find the peace we are to leave with if we are angry, bitter, distrustful, or, worst of all, judgmental. The Mass calls us to begin by being at peace with ourselves. While we have our faults and our sinfulness, the Mass invites us to place them all before our loving God who is only too happy to grant us peace. The Mass invites us to let go of our sins and the accompanying guilt so that we can be at peace.
Being at peace does not mean that we leave church worry free. Rather, we come to accept whatever doubts remain even after the celebration is over. We remember that there can be no real faith without doubt. “Peace” does not translate into the absence of all problems or into certainty about all matters. False certainty leads to arrogance, which often leads to our judgmental attitude toward anyone who does not agree with us. This, of course, does not lead to peace but to harm.
To “go in peace” means more than just being at peace with ourselves. The Mass sends us forth to “go in peace” with others, as well. By walking in peace we necessarily share that peace with others, for being at peace with ourselves makes it infinitely easier to be at peace with others. The word of God that is proclaimed to us at Mass challenges us to leave behind anything that separates us from one another: jealousy, bitterness, and prejudices. Even though we may enter the church building with these burdens, we are called to turn them over to the Lord and not pick them up as we leave. To “go in peace” means that we leave with a noticeable change in ourselves. Where the world attempts to drive wedges between us and our neighbors, the Mass sends us out to bring reconciliation to those whose lives are broken and chaotic. We are sent to live in peace with one another, as manifested in our words and responses, in our offers to help others, in all our actions, and where it cannot be seen—our attitudes and feelings, thoughts and desires.
When my daughter Amy was about five years old, she asked me, as we were leaving church one Sunday, “When can I get some peace?” My wife and I weren’t quite sure what she was talking about, so we asked her to explain what she meant. She said, “When you go up to the priest and he gives you peace . . . when can I get some, too?” She was referring to Holy Communion. Like all children at that age, they want to be a part of what the grown-ups are doing. She saw us going up to the priest to “get” something. To her, that something was “peace.” She heard the words, “The peace of the Lord be with you always,” and “Let us offer one another a sign of peace,” and “Grant us peace,” and, of course, “The Mass is ended. Go in peace.” She concluded that this “peace” that was being spoken of was what the priest or eucharistic minister gave us when we went up to receive communion. In essence, she was right. When we receive the body and blood of Jesus, we open our hearts to the real presence of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Amy understood at a very young age what the words of a famous bumper sticker are trying to communicate: “No Jesus, No Peace. Know Jesus, Know Peace.” (JSP)
The words “Go in peace” are not just nice words to nod our heads to because we agree with them in theory. To literally “go in peace” is an incredible challenge. As we reflect on what these words mean, we begin to realize just how transforming the Mass is supposed to be. We begin to see that, because of our baptism as Christians, we are called to be different. We are called to be holy—in the words of Peter’s epistle, a people “set apart.” We begin to realize that to “go in peace” means much more than to leave with a good feeling. It means that we leave church with the intention of making peace happen in our personal lives and in what happens around us.
The Mass proclaims that we “go in peace to love and to serve the Lord.” We are not just humanists who feel compelled to be nice to our brothers and sisters only. The peacemaking we do is in the name of the Lord. Our Lord is not some remote or punishing God, nor is he some pantheistic deity who is hiding in the bushes somewhere. Jesus Christ became flesh, lived among us, died for our sins, rose from the dead, and opens the gates of heaven for all of us. In the creed, we proudly proclaim our faith in a triune God—God who creates us, God who lived among us and redeems us, and God whom we experience in the depth of our being. This is the God we love and serve and take with us when we leave church. This is the God in whose name we are sent.
God’s very nature is relational, and so we find ourselves in relationship with God. That is why we are told to go in peace to love and serve the Lord. We all know that love is more than just words; it moves into actions. The Mass urges us to love God by acting against injustice, violence, war, prejudice—anything and everything that gets in the way of our loving one another. We must also do the small, everyday things that strengthen our relationships with those around us. And we are also responsible to act as part of the human family. On a global level our love calls us to fulfill responsibilities that we cannot ignore. We go forth to act as priests, making Jesus present to the world. We go forth to act as prophets, speaking on behalf of the oppressed and bringing hope to those in despair. We go forth to act as kings, serving and protecting the vulnerable and providing for the needs of others. We go forth recognizing that Jesus is present not only in the bread and wine that we have just received but also in “the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1373).
And finally, we are told not only to love the Lord but also to “serve the Lord.” We cannot leave church with our own agenda, expecting to do things our own way. We serve our God and not ourselves. It must be God’s path we take, God’s words we speak, and God’s actions we perform. It must be God’s will that is done. After all, shortly before communion we prayed the words “thy will be done”in the Lord’s Prayer. We are sent forth, with God’s blessing, to do God’s bidding. Again, this is not an easy task, because to serve the Lord means to serve our neighbor. To serve the Lord is something that we do not in church but in our homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces. To make matters more challenging, God’s will quite often runs counter to our human instincts, no matter how noble we might think them to be. God’s will can also be maddeningly mysterious. This is where faith comes in. It takes faith to serve the Lord. It takes great faith to respond in a way counter to what others expect, in a way that seemingly isolates us, making us look different or strange. In those times of painful loneliness we need to remember that we are not alone. The Mass strengthens our faith by bringing us into communion with Jesus and our brothers and sisters. Jesus Christ, whom we took into our hearts and souls in the Eucharist, walks with us. And all those with whom we shared a sign of Christ’s peace are fighting the same battle, struggling in the same way. The Mass helps us to overcome isolation and empowers us to recognize that so many others, because of their faith, are in the fight with us. And, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31).
Given all the above, when we are sent forth to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” our only response must be a resounding “Thanks be to God.” When we say these words, we are doing more than thanking God for what we have experienced in the past hour or so. Likewise, we are not thanking God that Mass is over, as relieved parents of a two-year-old who just made it through the liturgy with Cheerios, picture books, and a minimum of trips to the bathroom might be inclined to do. When we say, “Thanks be to God,” we are thanking God for the faith that brought us to the Mass and for all those with whom we have shared that faith: from the saints to our deceased loved ones, all of whom we have remembered in the Mass. For two thousand years, people of faith have gathered to celebrate the Eucharist. We continue to do so today, united with them all.
Most important, when we say, “Thanks be to God,” we are showing gratitude for the trust that God places in us to be Christ’s loving presence in the world. We call ourselves Christians. Christ lives and works in and through us, the people of God. We are happy to be called to the Lord’s Supper, which prepares us to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” When we say, “Thanks be to God,” we are thanking God profoundly and joyfully that the Mass is over and that we can leave church with renewed power to make God’s love and peace real in our individual circles of influence. It’s as if we are runners at the starting line after months of training, waiting for the race to finally begin. Everything has led up to this moment. Now we will give it our best effort. We’ll see what we can do, and we’ll be ready for whatever comes our way. God has freed us from serving other “masters” that we have allowed into our lives. We are free to do what we were truly created to do: love and serve the Lord, our God.
With the end of the Mass in mind, we now go back to the beginning of the Mass and start as we, the community of faith, enter the church—be it a cathedral in Europe, a shed in some mission land, or our local parish—and begin the celebration of the Eucharist, our sacred liturgy.
¦ ¦ ¦
The world wants peace; the world needs peace. Peace is not a utopia, nor an inaccessible ideal, nor an unrealizable dream. Peace is possible. And because it is possible, peace is our duty: our grave duty, our supreme responsibility.
John Paul II,
Message to the United Nations Special Session,
June 11, 1982